The Many Saints of Newark

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: I want to tell you

S1: right now I’ve seen.

S2: Dryland training people, no.

S3: I. What’s in the box? You know, you’re blowing down your.

S1: Oh, hello, and welcome to another Slate Spoiler special podcast, I’m Dana Stevens, the movie critic at Slate, and today we have a special crossover episode. I’m honored to be joined by Alan Sepinwall, who is the TV critic at Rolling Stone. Also, the host of the podcast Too Long Didn’t Watch, which just finished its first season, is about to start its second. And also very useful for our conversation is the co-author of a book called The Sopranos Sessions, which will probably get into in the course of our discussion, which, among other things, is a compendium of a lot of interviews with David Chase, creator of The Sopranos. And that is apposite for today’s conversation because we’re talking about the many saints of Newark, the new prequel to The Sopranos. We will talk about its relationship temporarily to the show that was created in part by David Chase, written by him, produced by him and and came very close to being directed by him, but is in fact directed by Alan Taylor, another Sopranos veteran. Welcome, Alan. It’s really nice to have you on the show.

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S2: Thank you so much for having me.

S1: So I guess I’ll start the way I usually do with these spoiler specials, since this is not a review, but an actual wading into The Sopranos weeds, I just want to get out of the way at the top. Did you like this movie? Are you glad that that exists? And do you think that it augments The Sopranos universe in a meaningful way?

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S2: I liked the movie. I wish there was more of it, oddly, because it feels like there’s about a half hour to an hour of missing material in the movie. And David Chase and I talked about for Rolling Stone the fact that he wanted it to be two hours or less. That’s what he feels like a movie should be. And you can tell that there’s a lot of shorthand going on and a lot of the stories that you and I will be talking about. But despite that, I still really enjoyed being immersed back in the world. It felt sopranos to me.

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S1: Yeah, I have to agree with you. I mean, I didn’t feel any need for this movie to exist. I love that universe, but it feels like it was done to me. As David Chase has said many times since the show ended in 2007, it was that it ended right. He sort of said that he’s done with that universe, and he would need a very compelling reason to re-enter. But it seems like with this movie, he more or less found that. And I have to agree with you that even though I see some flaws in this movie that I’m sure will come up during the course of our conversation. I wish that there was a sequel the minute it ended the sequel to the prequel, and I found myself wishing, as Vera Farmiga said in a profile you did of the whole cast. She plays Livia Soprano, and we’ll get into that as well that she hoped it would turn into a TV show because she felt like that character for her had not been exhausted and this world hadn’t been.

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S2: I mean, the performances by Vera and Michael Gandolfini and Ray Liotta and so many of the people in the movie are so good that I would be very happy to just go on watching them in other movies or an ongoing season or whatever it is that Chase, who is sort of famously stubborn, is willing to deal with these characters.

S1: Totally agree. So let’s get into this world that it does take place in. This movie starts in a way that I have to say I don’t love. I don’t think that the high concept premise really did it for me, and it made me spend the first couple of minutes of the movie thinking, OK, this movie is going to be trying too hard to invite me into its universe. Do you want to talk about the very opening, the way that we’re introduced into the world?

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S2: Yeah. So we begin, it’s I’ve compared it to the book Lincoln in the Bardo because we’re panning through a cemetery and you start hearing voiceovers from each of the people buried there talking about how they died. And eventually we land on the tombstone of Christopher Moltisanti, whose father, Dickie is the main character here. And Christopher recalls, you know, being killed by Tony and sort of how difficult his life was. And then he throws us back to 1967, when his father was in his prime and Tony Soprano was a little kid and sort of narrates at least part of the story.

S1: Yeah, I wonder. I just wonder about that choice. It seemed very unsafe like to me. Somehow, it seemed like it kind of gilded the lily in a way that The Sopranos rarely did. And I wonder how this movie would feel different if instead of starting with that, you know, Lincoln in the Bardo moment. Incidentally, I absolutely love that book. Lincoln in Nevada. So why this doesn’t ring well with me, I think it just has to do with it. Not seeming sopranos ish. But how would the movie have been different if we had just started with a legend that said Newark 1967 and then gotten straight into the flashback?

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S2: I mean, I believe that’s what they originally did. They did. The Christopher opening is one of a number of additional shoots that they did about a year after the production initially wrapped. I don’t know that it feels on sopranos to me. I’ve seen this in a lot of the reviews, but the thing about the show is The Sopranos had room for a lot of like mysticism and weird moments. There’s a story in season two, or Christopher gets shot and sees a vision of hell, and then Paulie is being haunted by ghosts. And then another storyline where Tony is shot and winds up in some parallel reality, where he is precision optics salesman named Kevin Finnerty. Like also,

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S1: that was a crazy episode.

S2: Yes, there was a lot of, you know, Tony has a dream where he gets a phone call from God and God is played by David Chase on the phone. It’s like there was definitely some sort of. A hint of a higher power even on the show and talk about hell. And so it didn’t feel wildly out of keeping to me, even though like if you’re coming back to this after 14 years in, your memories are much stronger on some of the day to day minutia of the show. It might feel odd, but I liked it.

S1: Interesting. Yeah, I think I’m glad I had you to ask that question, too, because it seemed like something from a different kind of perceptual universe. But you’re right that part of the inventiveness of that show is that it played around with what perceptual universe it was taking place in from time to time. Yes, it is nice to hear Michael Imperioli voice a couple times throughout the movie. I think Dead Dead Christopher intervenes a couple more times on the soundtrack, but the voiceover really kind of drops away.

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S2: Yeah, although I like when they do the transition from one year to another and he’s talking about everything that happened in between, he says. Neil Young gave that speech from the Moon because Christopher just always got everything wrong.

S1: Yeah, this we should say that this movie, although like the show is very dark, also has a lot of humor. I mean, and not just once in a while like really threaded through even some of the goriest and most depressing scenes are some pretty good jokes.

S2: Yeah, there’s a torture scene. And then suddenly there’s a two page joke in the middle of it. It’s very tonally all over the place, which was a hallmark of the show as well.

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S1: So once we get to 1967, right summer of 1967, Newark, which is where we stay for, I guess, the first 20 minutes of the movie or so, right?

S2: About about half. It’s about half an inch in each era.

S1: I would, yeah, it’s a longer time spent in that early time frame than you would think, which is something that I like about the movie. I think a lot of times when you see a character grow up the way you do Tony Soprano in this movie, right? We see him turn from a pretty pre-teen, I guess, a kid in middle school until his teenage self. You usually get so little of the kid, and I sort of like that the kid is played by William Ludwig. I think really excellently gets a fair amount of time on screen. We’re not just sort of waiting to get to the to the teenage Tony, who of course, is played by Michael Gandolfini in a performance that we will get to when we get to that part of the movie. But anyway, we’re there in Newark with young William. I think he’s supposed to be about 12 or 13. And as a person who is, who knows, well, this entire universe, can you situate us a little bit in terms of the characters we’re familiar with and where they’re at in 1967?

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S2: Yes. Tony’s a little kid. I think they fudged his age a little bit because on the show, he was born in 1959, which would make him eight here and 12 in the later seasons. And he’s very obviously not 12. But so he’s a kid. He is idolizing his uncle Dickie, Dickie and Dickie, or at the Port of Newark to pick up Dickie. His father, Hollywood Dick, who played by Ray Liotta and Hollywood Dickie, is coming back from a vacation to Italy, and he’s returning with this, this young bride you subpoena played by Michela de Rossi. And so we catch up with them. We meet Christopher’s mother, Joanne, and then eventually we go to the communion for Janice Soprano, where we find young Livia Young, Silvio Young, Paulie Walnuts, Young, Big Pussy and Johnny Boy Soprano, Tony’s father, who was not really that significant on the show because I believe he died in 1986, right?

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S1: And we also see how the power is distributed in this world, which is different than we might have expected. Right? I mean, we think of The Sopranos as as the powerful family. But in fact, Johnny Boy, the father of young Tony, seems to be a pretty mid-level mobster and maybe one of the more disposable figures in this particular mafioso hierarchy as of 1967.

S2: Yeah, it’s not The Sopranos family at this point, it’s still called the DiMeo family. The boss at the time was named Ecklie de Mayo and like David Chase himself as a little Alfred Hitchcock cameo at one point as actually like walking into a room at the funeral parlor. But Johnny Boy is very much a mid manager, so is Dickie, for that matter. There’s not a lot of sort of high end people were dealing with. Even though this is supposed to be the glory days of the mob, it still feels like a job to them.

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S1: Yeah, and I think that this movie is pretty strict about not romanticizing, you know, about being sure to debunk The Sopranos own notion or rather its character’s own notion that this was some sort of golden age of the mob. Because we, although I will say that Dickie Moltisanti dresses better than any of the characters in the older version of The Sopranos. He essentially does live the same life of sort of petty greed and and random violence.

S2: Yeah, I mean, the first time we see him in action, his sidekick Harold, played by Leslie Odom Jr. They’re chasing someone who like Rob $600 from the numbers racket that they run. And it’s just it. It’s all work. It’s all sweating. It’s all petty beefs and violence. And it’s almost exactly like what we saw in the late 90s and early 2000s with Tony’s crew

S1: and with some of the same self romanticization, we should say, right? I mean, it seems like Dickie Moltisanti, played wonderfully by Alessandra Nivola, is is identified with the Rat Pack, right? Whenever possible, he you know, he has some sort of Dean Martin music on. He’s got a super well-cut suit on. He enjoys the flashy part of being a mobster and and he seems himself to have designs on rising in the establishment.

S2: He does, and he but he also has that sort of Tony Soprano capacity for living in denial like he seems to think of himself as a good guy, relatively speaking. And that’s a lot of the conflict of the movie and keeps being surprised when he does just absolutely monstrous things.

S1: Yeah, and there I think since this is a spoiler and we want to get to the twists, we have to talk about the first monstrous thing he does, which is a moment that this movie could have really gone off the rails and incredibly to me, sort of didn’t but talk about the very first encounter that we see Dickie have with the world of extreme graphic violence in the movie.

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S2: So Dickie we see very early on, basically from the moment that he meets her, is attracted to his new stepmother to subpoena and is very protective of her as his father is abusive to her. And eventually the abuse gets very physical and very dangerous, and Dickie tries to talk to his dad about it. And Hollywood Dickie is unrepentant, unapologetic and dismisses both Jew subpoena and Dickie his late mother as sluts. And at that point, Dickie temper just explodes, and he beats his father to death against the steering wheel of Hollywood Dick’s car, and is immediately like in disbelief that this happened. He cannot imagine having done this despite having done it

S1: right, and that becomes kind of the primal sin of the movie that he tries to expiate for unsuccessfully throughout the movie. That scene is is sort of incredible because he doesn’t intend to kill his father, right? So I think his disbelief in the audience is disbelief kind of develop at the same time. And I myself couldn’t quite believe that the Ray Liotta character was dead, if only because Ray Liotta is such a catch for them to have cast for him to die. What? Less than 20 minutes into the movie,

S2: David Chase had been trying to cast Ray Liotta in The Sopranos for 20 years. He was supposed to play Ralphie, and he just didn’t want to do it. So yeah, when he killed Liotta and I watched it, I thought, OK, that’s that’s sort of a Janet Leigh in psycho kind of moment where they finally got their big star and are using him as a shock. But yeah, there’s more.

S1: Yeah, I know it’s misdirection. And this is also an important moment in the movie because it’s the time when this subplot we haven’t mentioned yet, which is the race riots in Newark that were happening that same summer of 67 interweave with this, this fictional crime story that David Chase is creating. So the way the Dickie Moltisanti tries to cover for his murder of his father and dispose of his father’s body is essentially tied to drive his father still in the same car. He was just beaten to death in to this, this industrial space that I guess is owned by the Moltisanti family, right? And and torture him, set the whole place on fire and then attribute it to, you know, the race riots that are happening in the city essentially pin it on Newark’s black population.

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S2: And that’s a running gag on the show. There’s literally an episode called Unidentified Black Males, because so often on the series, the wise guys would try to fob off some bit of violence on African-American suspects who did not exist because they become an easy target. And there’s a similar joke in this movie to where you see, I think Pussy and Paulie walnuts smash a store window during the riots to steal a television. And one of them says, Oh, the Harlem Globetrotters will get blamed for this. So it’s an ongoing thing. And there’s that amazing moment where Dickie is driving through the riot torn streets and like a tank rolls up in front of his car and soldiers walk up to him, and he literally has a corpse of his own murder victim sitting next to him and the soldiers wave them on through because he’s a white guy, and their job on that day is to deal with, you know, a black uprising.

S1: Right? So I mean, this this movie, I think at least maybe just in a condensed way, more so than the series, but it seems like this movie is is really interested in the black white tensions in Newark and sort of about how the mob rises out of those tensions. And, you know, essentially also how characters like Leslie Odom’s character, Harold, who’s, as you said, numbers runner and money collector for the mob, become these these invisible henchmen. Right. And so there’s this sort of the black power plot that arises later on when Leslie Odom’s character decides, You know what? I’m going to start my own mob, which obviously in 70s Newark was a very dangerous choice to make.

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S2: And I think Leslie Odom definitely gets some short shrift in the movie, especially in the second half. There’s a point at which you just kind of vanishes from the narrative altogether. But the the movie, I think, does much better by him than the show tended to do by characters of color. We do get to see some semblance of an inner life that he has. You know him with his girlfriend, him talking about, you know, maybe his dreams of going to Vietnam and winning a medal. And then eventually we understand as he’s walking through the riot streets like him, understanding this is not acceptable. I need to sort of grab a piece of things and not just be a tool of the white criminal establishment. And what he’s doing with it is himself criminal. But at least his his.

S1: The Leslie Odom thread is a moment when I wish that this had been a TV show rather than a movie. And and that’s kind of rare for me, a much more a movie person than a TV person and generally think that TV, especially prestige TV, is way padded and over inflated, like why do we need all this? This is not the case with The Sopranos, by the way, but just a common ailment in TV.

S2: And I’m with you 100 percent on that, right?

S1: But yet in this movie, there were things like the Leslie Odom story that’s almost shorthand for a future story in a future character that you would want to know more about.

S2: Yeah, I would have definitely like to see more of him. More of you subpoena more of a number of characters who just sort of if there’s there’s these big leaps and you kind of have to look back and squint and say, Oh, I guess I can see how that happened, but I would have liked to have seen the material in between.

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S1: Right. So after this shocking twist in which Dickie murders his own father and disposes of his body and then subsequently, we should say, takes on his father’s widow as his mistress pretty soon afterwards. I mean, the family seems to be surprisingly chill about that. We get into the next section of the movie where a few things happen that are important a new character is introduced to. I’m going to ask you to tell me about in just a second, a sort of surprise double for the Ray Liotta character. And also, we start to get the development of the relationship of young Tony at this point or soon afterwards, played by Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late James Gandolfini. The relationship of young Tony to Dickie, who is not his uncle, in fact, but who is somebody who treats him like an uncle and a kind of substitute dad figure for him since his own dad. We forgot to mention Johnny Boy has gone to jail on a charge of armed assault.

S2: Yeah, and we see Johnny Boy get arrested, and it’s a recreation of a flashback from the show. It’s in the season one episode called Down Neck, where during the riots, Tony follows his father and his sister, Janice, to an amusement park. And it turns out Johnny Boy and a bunch of members of his crew get busted for running. I don’t even remember what they’re doing at this point, but they’re up to some sort of shenanigans using the amusement park as a front. And Johnny Boy gets arrested and Tony witnesses this. And the interesting thing is the flashback. He or the scenes here do not necessarily match up exactly with what we saw on the show. And when I talked to Alan Taylor and David Chase and Lawrence Konner, the other writer of the screenplay, they all said like they were not looking for one hundred percent fidelity because their thinking is memory is not exact. And the way Tony thought about it when he was talking to Dr. Melfi may not have been the way it actually happened. This may not have been the exact way it happened, either, because Great Christopher was not the most reliable narrator either. So the way he’s talking about it may not be exact. And Dickie is obviously not the most reliable narrator of his own life because he’s so living in denial and he’s so convinced still that he’s a good person that he decides to atone for this bit of patricide by going to prison to meet his father’s brother, Sal, who he’s never known, who’s serving time for murdering a made guy in the family. And it turns out Uncle Sal also Ray Liotta.

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S1: Yes, and this is a moment where, as I was saying that, the humor of the show and its darkness kind of overlap like I never wasn’t laughing at some point during these visits to Uncle Sal in the prison, even though they are also really the part of the movie in which Dickie is the most reflective, he’s the most morally conflicted. I mean, basically, these are his Dr. Melfi scenes, right? This is his counselor sort of is his uncle in jail who he hasn’t visited in all this time, which Uncle Sal is very, you know, sort of dryly snide about, but whom he’s now visiting because he feels like it’s a person to whom he can open up, even though he never tells, tells him, you know, his biggest secret when he first comes in, which is, I killed my own dad.

S2: And the thing is, you can tell Sal sees through a lot of it like Dickie keeps telling these obvious these stories that are obviously false to us, and Uncle Sal is a lot quieter than his brother, Liotta. I mean, I think it’s a tremendous performance by Liotta. And the hilarious thing is he was not meant to play this role. He told me they were negotiating with another actor who just wanted too much money. And to David Chase said, Hey, would you do it? And we’ll just make them twins?

S1: Wow, that was such a brilliant use of the economy of the budget because it really is the fact that he’s his exact double that makes those scenes so, so charming and mysterious and strange, especially because it’s never really explained. Are they identical twins? I guess. They must have been. We just learned so little about Uncle Sal, but he’s such an important presence in the movie, and those scenes have a different quality than anything else in the movie. Because, as you can tell, even from our discussions so far, this is a very busy movie, right? It’s full of character going on the plot, and those scenes provide kind of a respite from the busyness of the Newark scenes.

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S2: Yeah. And as you say, they give us a much better insight into Dickie than we get when he’s just sort of bouncing around from plot to plot and dealing with all these, you know, characters we know from the show, though those are some of the best scenes in the movie, especially the last one between the two of them. They’re really potent,

S1: and Liotta has this. This great contrast between those two ways of playing a character, right? I mean, I think we’re really, really used to seeing him play blustering types like Hollywood Dickie, the the father who gets murdered character, but we’re not so used to seeing him play. I mean, what I think of is almost like a an old school. Will William hurt kind of character or something, someone whose power comes from their kind of ominous, quiet and their reserve, and that’s exactly how Uncle Sal plays it.

S2: It’s a really wonderful performance. I’m so happy that it worked out that way, even if it was not the intention originally.

S1: All right. So we’re a good ways into our conversation, in a good ways into the movie, and we still haven’t yet met Michael Gandolfini, who is probably the most hyped actor in this movie, just because of the stunt casting factor that he is, you know, the 22 year old son of James Gandolfini playing his own dad. Apparently something as you explore in your profile of the whole cast that he really resisted doing. Michael Gandolfini didn’t want this role at first.

S2: He wanted no part of it. He didn’t. He didn’t think he was up for it. But also it would have meant like confronting watching the show, which he couldn’t make himself do after his father died and just sort of like having to like, think and live in these footsteps. And he knew how difficult the role had been for his dad. So there’s just so much baggage there. And eventually he got talked into it, and he’s great. He’s so wonderful in this role. It’s not just that, obviously, he looks so much like his father, but that he’d like really figured out what made Tony Soprano tick and what made that performance work and is able to invoke enough of it while still playing him as this innocent and kind of confused kid whose life could very easily go in a different direction, if not for the things that happened in the second half of this movie.

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S1: Yeah, and I think that that’s really to me that the strongest drama in this movie, I mean, I love Alessandra Neville’s performance, and just following that thread is its own kind of very fun to watch mob movie, but the kind of added value that it brings, especially if you know The Sopranos. Well, and I’m assuming that most people who are drawn to see this movie have at least some familiarity. Is that is that you get to see this, this Tony in the bud kind of kind of vision. And I think part of what makes Michael Gandolfini’s performance so strong is that he is kind of unpolished. You know, he doesn’t seem like the most experienced actor on screen, but that gives him this rawness and freshness in the role as well, that you just you can’t stop looking at his, his sweet smile and his sweet face and the idea that Tony was ever such a sweet young man.

S2: Yeah, he was 20 when they shot most of this, and I think he’s playing either 14 or 15 and it shouldn’t work. But he just between the haircut, the ugly clothes and just his body language, he makes you think of him as this gangly, you know, kid who is not remotely the man he’s going to become.

S1: Right? He doesn’t quite seem comfortable in his body, which goes both with Tony and with that age that he’s playing. And there’s something about him. Like I say, it’s just almost like from a slightly different universe than the rest of the actors, which which works perfectly for the kind of character that he’s playing. But it seems important to stress for people who have just seen the hype for the movie that he’s not at all the protagonist. The protagonist is 100 percent Alessandra Nicolas Dickie Moltisanti.

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S2: Yeah, and David Chase is not happy at all with the marketing that it’s all like Tony centric because Tony is a supporting character in Dickie story. But, you know, I also understand Warner Brothers desire to try to sell tickets to this movie to people who aren’t just going to stream it on HBO Max. And people love Tony, and they don’t know Dickie, at least not yet.

S1: Right? And even though it’s true that Tony is not the main character, his relationship with Dickie is sort of the main relationship, I would say, right? I mean, there’s not really another dyad in this movie that’s as important, and that changes as much over the course of the movie as their relationship.

S2: Yeah. Like, you know, I think they try at times with juice subpoena, for instance. And unfortunately, they just don’t give that character enough to do in this version, whereas obviously the Dickie and Tony’s stories are meant to move in parallel. And the downfall of Dickie then becomes the much longer downfall of Tony Soprano because of what happens to him at both of them by the end of the movie.

S1: One of the relationship that I wish had been explored more, and it’s really great when it is explored, is the relationship between Tony and his mother, Livia Soprano, played by Vera Farmiga, and I think one of the most understated performances in the movie and a really great one. But just really not quite enough time with Livia, who I mean, if there’s anybody whose back story you would want to understand, it’s her. Because by the time she gets to be Nancy Marchand playing the older Livia in The Sopranos show, she’s just a person whose motivation seems so difficult to discern and just this mother who has no maternal warmth whatsoever and is clearly somebody who has all kinds of problems that were never addressed. And the movie digs into that in a fascinating way.

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S2: It’s great. There’s this sort of triple scene sequence where it’s first. Tony gets in trouble for stealing a test, and so he has to go to see the guidance counselor, Mrs. Girardi, played by Talia Balsam. And it’s very clear this is another sort of Dr. Melfi surrogate where he’s talking about his own problems and his relationship with his mother. And then Livia has to go in and it’s like you said she is not the Nancy Marshawn character yet. There is still like some sense of some humanity in her maybe not warmth, but at least sort of a desire to, like, relate to her children and relate to her philandering husband and all these things. And she’s just sort of failing at it, but she’s trying. And Mrs.. Directed like recalls a time that Tony told her about where like they stayed up all night reading a book called Sutter’s Mill and snuggling together, and it’s both uncomfortable and also a little bit sad in terms of how rarely Tony got any kind of warmth from her. And then eventually she reaches out and she tries talking to him while making him a hamburger in the kitchen and confesses that her her doctor tried to put her on Clavell, which was an early antidepressant. And it’s like you can see Tony figuring out, Oh, this would help my mother, and she just does not want to take it. And by the time Tony’s an adult meeting with Dr. Melfi, he like the idea that his mother might have been mentally ill. He’s just completely blocked out of his mind.

S1: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great Easter egg. You have so many Easter eggs you could point to knowing the show as well as you do that. But that was a particular one that resonated with me because I know maybe it’s because my dad’s a psychiatrist and I just come from a world of, you know, I just this this idea of rejecting medication. And, you know, you’re somehow weak if you take mental health seriously in any way. Is it sort of the center of The Sopranos, right? Is something that’s ruined so many people’s lives in real life. And I was really touched by that thread of the movie that has the young Tony going over and over to his uncle or foe uncle, his his father figure Dickie asking, Can you get some lavell? I know you can get anything, he says, right? Because at this point he’s he understands what the family business is and he’s pressing to get these pills for his mom. It’s a great subplot.

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S2: And you could kind of tell that there’s there’s this almost sliding doors quality to it because there’s a version where like Dickie gets the pills convinces Livia to take them. Livia is different. Therefore, Tony is different and sort of their lives could have changed a lot. Or, like other things, Dickie could have happened and Tony could have turned out a lot differently. And instead, everyone winds up as sort of a miserable, you know, people that we met in 1999 on HBO.

S1: Yeah, it’s the butterfly effect. Absolutely. But let’s get to this middle part of the movie where we’ve now made a jump into the early 70s as the needle drops, tell us nonstop, the needle drops. This movie, I think, are a bit on the nose, but there’s a lot of good music on the soundtrack. But here we are in the early 70s. Michael Gandolfini is now playing Tony, and Dickie is now not raining over crime in Newark, but starting to ascend in the crime world. But the big problem that’s besetting the mob at this point is that Harold McBrayer, the Leslie Odom Jr. character, has now made this bid to to sort of start taking back some of the crime world of Newark from the Italian gangsters.

S2: Yeah, he definitely had his consciousness raised during the riots and during whatever period he spent down south in between the movies to haves, he comes back, he’s wearing his hair more naturally. He’s wearing more Afrocentric clothing. It’s all you know, he’s he’s attending a black power rally when we first see him again and then he decides, Alright, I’m going to take everything the Dickie Moltisanti has, which includes obviously trying to take over the numbers game, and eventually it involves him trying to take away juice subpoena in a development that was sort of like, Where did this come from? I guess this happened, but there’s definitely a lot of conflict going on between the two of them. And, you know, guys on both sides are killed, and eventually Harold comes to Dickie, his nightclub, the silhouette, and tries to kill him. And the two of them wind up facing off through a hole in the door to Dickie his back office, and one of them is about to shoot the other. When Harold hears police sirens and runs away, so it’s another sort of classic sopranos anti-climax where you think these two guys are about to go to blows and it just doesn’t happen, right?

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S1: I mean, what it really is setting up is the action scenes that will happen later on in the movie. And there’s lots of moments where you think, I’m not quite sure how this character survived this shootout, but the fact is that it’s a contrivance that the character has to survive the shootout so that you know they can be alive for the next shootout.

S2: Yes. And then and then you assume, obviously, that we know from the show because Tony and Christopher have talked about it that Dickie was murdered when Christopher was a baby. And so the movie certainly seems to be walking you up to the idea Oh, he’s at war with Harold. Harold will ultimately prove to be responsible. But no,

S1: I was going to ask you about that. Can you briefly talk about The Sopranos episode that I think you said this is the one that would have been the most key if you were going to watch just one to refresh your memory for the show. Can you tell us about that?

S2: It’s the season four premiere called for all debts public and private, and Tony is attempting to turn Christopher into his heir and bring him tighter into the inner circle and the way he does that, as he tells Christopher, he says, You know, sit down, I’m going to tell you how your father died, and I’m going to tell you who killed him. And I’m going to give you a chance to get revenge on this person. And he tells him that it was a police officer named Barry Heda, who was a crooked cop working for another wiseguy named, I Want to say, Jilly Ruffalo. And he then sends Christopher to Barry Haight House. Christopher takes Barry Haiti prisoner, confronts Barry Haiti, who denies it, says, You know whoever told you this is lying to manipulate you. And Christopher, at least in that episode, has the good sense to say you may be right about that, but it doesn’t matter because my boss wants you dead, and so I have to kill you. So there’s ambiguity, even in that episode, about whether this is the truth. And obviously, it is not because we come back to this movie and we see that Dickie is ultimately killed by a wise guy working for Uncle Junior, basically for nothing, for just like the petty sins. You know, Junior, who we know from the show always just takes grudges way too far. So over the course of this movie, you see little glimpses of either other members of the soprano family treating Dickie more like a member of the family than they do junior or fat or Dickie challenging Junior’s manhood at one point when I think Paulie Walnuts tells a joke about Junior’s mistress. And then finally, when they’re leaving a funeral, Uncle Junior slips and falls on the steps on the way out and everybody laughs at him. But Junior somehow fixates on Dickie having done it and decides Enough’s enough, I want him gone. And so he orders Dickie murder, and that is why Christopher does not have a father. Why Tony does not have the mentor who might at this point of steered him out of a life of crime of all of these things.

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S1: Yeah, this is something that the really fine line the movie has to walk where you’re right that in a way I wouldn’t call him the most moral voice, but the most morally conflicted voice. The person in the movie who might possibly have gone another way and have been able to get out of the life is, is Dickie right?

S2: So I don’t know if he would have been able to get out of the life because we see he’s entrenched deep in and we’ve I’ve jumped over entirely. His murder of Jews subpoena when he finds out that she’s been sleeping with Harold, and that’s another case of like he kills the person with his bare hands. We thought he cared about most in all, the world is then shocked to do it, and he goes back to see Uncle Sal again. And Uncle Sal once again seems to see through this story, and he’s he’s talking with the John Coltrane album My Favorite Things, and he suggests that maybe all this bad stuff keeps happening to Dickie because some of the things you’re doing aren’t God’s favorite. And it’s at that point where I think Dickie doesn’t think he can get out, but he at least finally recognizes, Oh, this life I have chosen is bad. There is no way to be like a good guy who works in the mob, and that’s when he starts trying to push Tony away from him. And he unfortunately kind of does it a little too harshly and then dies before he’s able to do it the right way and have a heart to heart talk with him. And so, you know, he leaves Tony standing at the ice cream parlor waiting for him where Tony is waiting for Meadow in the final scene of the show. And you know, some people think that Tony was murdered in that ice cream parlor in the last episode of the show. And here, at least a certain part of Tony dies there because the part of him that could have eventually had another life, you know, goes out the window because Dickie does not show up to talk to him.

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S1: Right. I hadn’t made the connection that that was the same ice cream store he was sitting outside of. I mean that he converges that the movie ends essentially in the same location that the show ended.

S2: Yes, it’s Halston in Bloomfield. It’s a great place and obviously has a lot of meaning at this point for for the entire Sopranos franchise,

S1: where it’s still it’s still there. You can still go get an ice cream at Halston,

S2: you can still go get an ice cream. There is still a jukebox in that booth, so people will let go and sit and take selfies in there.

S1: OK, I have to admit, even as a non sopranos superfan that I’m I’m intrigued and I may end up going to get ice cream there at some point.

S2: I’m in a documentary where Matt Zoller Sites and I, who co-wrote The Sopranos Sessions, sit in that booth and talk about the show for a while.

S1: Oh, give me the title. I want to find that

S2: the title is itself called The Sopranos Sessions. It’s I believe it’s celebrate The Sopranos dot com.

S1: Oh, excellent. All right, that I’m definitely going to watch. So, all right, and that really excellent thumbnail summary of the last part of the movie. There’s one thing I want to go back to, which is Dickie murder of you subpoena, which I think is a moment in this movie that really doesn’t work and that doesn’t really comport with the character as we know it, but also just leaves a big logic hole. I mean, it’s certainly an affecting scene. You can’t watch a scene of, you know, a young woman being brutally murdered who has done absolutely nothing wrong. Well, I guess she’s she did sleep with Harold Breyer, but in her circumstances, it’s completely understandable. She then confesses that I mean, nothing about that scene made sense since to me, essentially, like, I would think that she would be too savvy to tell her mobbed out husband who, you know, we all know that all these Italians are incredibly racist. We’ve heard a million conversations in the movie where they’re upset about, you know, blacks moving into the suburbs, where they’re pinning their crimes on, you know, unseen black people. And yet, she confesses to him at this on this romantic walk on the beach right after he’s just told her that he’s going to help her realize her dream of running her own beauty parlor. He’s going to he’s going to buy one for her that she slept with Harold because she was lonely because he was out doing his mob job. And he proceeds to immediately drown her in the surf. And this, to me, is very different from the scene of him killing his own dad, which was also a shocker and a twist, but was a supposed to be something he didn’t quite realize he was doing. Right is his kind of primal anger came out and he couldn’t stop beating his father and sort of accidentally beat him to death. I mean, I’m not trying to say Dickie is a good. That guy, obviously, he’s being painted as someone who has a pathological temper. But I would still think that he would be just too savvy somehow to to commit murder in broad daylight in a way that it could easily be pinned on him. We don’t even see what he does to dispose of the body, which is a big part of The Sopranos body disposal. Come on.

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S2: I think she just she floats away in the surf ultimately, like she just drifts off and I guess you’d be find it found elsewhere. To me, it’s a problem more because I don’t think that the movie has done enough with her to sort of justify a the affair with Harold. And then b the fact that she tells it to Dickie. But I guess the idea is supposed to be that she’d like Dickie has been sucked into this idea of him ultimately being a good guy when he’s not. And so when he tells her, right, I’m going to buy you the beauty parlor, you’re going to get to have your dream. She feels suddenly guilty, and she can’t stop herself from telling him. But yeah, no, it’s not. The actual murder scene is very like viscerally film by Alan Taylor and played by the two actors. But you’re right, it’s sort of it’s it’s much messier than the the murder of Hollywood Dickie, as

S1: it just to me, it seemed like it was ratcheting things up to the next level just in order to do so. And it was a moment where it felt like the violence was a contrivance to to give to me to manipulate the emotions of the viewer rather than, you know, something that flowed naturally from the characters and the relationships as we knew them.

S2: There’s a great line that Dr. Belfie says. I think sometime early in season two of the show, where she asks Tony how many more people have to die for your personal growth? And there’s a sense of, like Josephine, it exists entirely in this movie so that her death will finally force Hollywood Dickie or gentlemen Dickie rather to recognize, Oh, I’m bad, this life is bad. I have to get Tony out of it.

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S1: Right? Yeah, and that doesn’t. That seems like an unfair usage of her, especially because she’s really the major female character in the movie. I mean, Livia Soprano is important, but she doesn’t have near as much screen time as you subpoena does. So the one woman that we’re given any chance to get to know, we’ll get to Carmela in a minute, who really, I think is shortchanged by this, this flashback structure. Yeah, the only woman that we get to know just seems to be there in order to be dangled before us as this beautiful, sympathetic young woman who is then brutally killed.

S2: Yeah, it’s not. It’s not great. And one of the things that I think separates The Sopranos as a show from a lot of its imitators is it does very well by the female characters. Carmela is an incredibly well realized person. Livia, obviously Dr. Melfi, Janice Meadow, Adriana. Yes, it’s a male world, but it like understands and gets us to understand the women in that world in a way that this movie unfortunately does not have the time or interest to do.

S1: Yeah, I mean, this movie is well aware that it takes place in a stew of toxic masculinity. It’s not as if David Chase is blind to that fact, but maybe just because of the length and the running time and the fact he was really dedicated to making it a two hour movie. The women really get short shrift.

S2: Yes, I agree.

S1: All right. Well, now now that we’ve spoiled who killed Dickie, which is, I guess, the last thing to spoil, I want to go back and talk about where Tony is at in the last quarter of this movie. And I mean, I’m essentially talking about this as if there’s going to be another movie because a part of me kind of wants there to be. But talk about what we’re Tony is that kind of morally and psychologically in the last quarter quarter of the movie or so as Dickie is moving toward his tragic end?

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S2: Yeah, I mean, obviously, we saw him steal the test, which we talked about, which leads to the guidance counselor. We also see him and young Jackie Aprile and young Artie Bucco hijack an ice cream truck, which is sort of painted as a relatively innocent shenanigan, even though the ice cream truck driver gets beat up and robbed. But they’re just doing it to sort of like give free ice cream to the kids in the park. So it’s a sense again of like him being right on the knife edge between, you know, innocent kid and, you know, homicidal gangster. But he’s still he’s trying, he’s doing things and then Dickie after he goes to see Uncle Sal starts shutting him out. And Tony does not respond well to this. When when Dickie won’t like, come to the phone and Tony gets upset and starts beating up Jackie for taunting him. And we see, like young Carmela in her only appearance in the movie, trying to break up the fight and she, you know, gets beat up, you know, just for trying to intercede there. So that’s a I would have liked to have seen more, Carmela. Definitely.

S1: Yeah, I no, I almost couldn’t believe that that was the only shrift that that Carmela was going to get when he called her calm, you know, as he was as he was fighting with Jackie next to the phone booth. I was trying to put it together like, what? How how can that be her? How can she be entering so late in the movie? Surely we’re going to learn something more about what she liked about Tony, what their relationship was like in high school? I mean, your embroidering a whole fan fiction there in your mind, and all you get is a couple lines and then, as you say, her being knocked to the ground.

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S2: Well, I mean, that’s unfortunately the Carmela Soprano experience is she loves this guy who does nothing but hurt her.

S1: Yeah, I mean, that’s a. I guess it’s consistent with who with who she was, but it just seemed like such a view from the outside of who she was.

S2: Yes, it’s definitely a missed opportunity.

S1: But since we’re talking about getting short shrift and just getting a brief caricature of someone, I want to talk about what I call in my review the Muppet Babies phenomenon of the the movie, which is that there’s this whole raft of secondary characters. Not so much Carmela, who’s really just a cameo in that one scene, but people like Paulie Walnuts and Sylvio Dante. I mean, major major characters in The Sopranos who are present there present a lot sort of standing around in group scenes or helping out to bits, beat up some someone or other. But we get no characterization of them whatsoever. And in fact, in many cases, the only way you really know it’s that character is that they have the same hairstyle or some sort of some sort of styling choice. That’s the same. And those were moments when I felt like the movie was slipping too much into fan service, which is exactly what this movie in general, I think, rises above.

S2: It’s tricky, I think, because a number of those supporting characters, if you look at the show, are pretty thin in terms of characterization or performance. Like, I love Steve Van Zandt. He makes me laugh every time I see Sylvia when it’s seen. Silvio is a caricature on the show. So when you then have John Magaro playing like doing a Steve Van Zandt impression as Silvio here, it may seem like caricatured, but I don’t think it’s that much more than Van Zandt was doing. It’s just he’s in it so briefly that it kind of sticks out as, Oh hey there, Silvio, oh, it’s funny. It turns out he was going bald and he’s he was wearing a toupee on the show, which we were never really sure about. But there’s definitely they could have done more with all of these people. But again, the problem is the movie is just trying to do so much, and I’m not sure whether it would have been better to just omit them altogether or just have them appear even more briefly than they did.

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S1: Yeah, I agree. I would either rather rather have them kind of cross through the way the Carmela character does or just not not include them at all, because it just it cheapens the series to make it seem like that. It’s just checking off boxes. You have to see this guy, you have to see this guy right, you’ve got to see what they look like when they were 30 years old instead of 60 years old.

S2: No, we will say, though, that Magaro made me laugh a lot like I just I was very amused by that performance. I know I may be in the minority on that, but he I thought he was funny.

S1: I think all those guys are. They all kind of grasp what’s funny about the older character and managed to transmit some of those mannerisms. And I agree in relationship relationships. Silvio Dante The great spoiler is, of course, that he has a toupee, that his wonderful crest of hair all this time has been fake. And as you say, sometimes that toupee comes into comic play, even in moments, you know, when horrible things are being done to various henchmen. All right. So having spoiled pretty much who whacked who throughout this whole movie, I want to get to the pinky swear at the very end of the movie and the moment that The Sopranos theme kicks in. I mean, you could sort of think of this as like, this is the key going into the lock, you know, at the end of the movie. And if you kind of are there in part for the fan service like this is the moment that you experience that, that clicking into place. So you want to talk about the last scene, which is Dickie funeral?

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S2: Yeah. So it’s actually set up by the last scene of the 1967 section between Dickie and Tony, where Tony has just gotten into trouble for trying to run his own numbers racket at his Catholic school and to Dickie is brought in to talk to him and he tells Tony, You need to try. Like Tony says, I try to be good and Dickie says, try harder and you have to pinky swear. And Tony seems reluctant to do that. So now he has. It’s many years later, he has felt shunned by his surrogate uncle, and he like he’s standing at the coffin, feeling betrayed. Dickie did not come to Holsteins to talk to him. And you see this look on Michael Gandolfini’s face, which is much more in line with the way his father played the character. And you get the sense, OK, when Dickie died something and Tony dies as well. And now anything, any guardrails that were left to prevent him from falling into this world are gone. And as you see that expression on his face suddenly and another bit of sort of magic realism Dickie his hand to reach us up from the coffin to give a pinky swear to Tony as you start to hear the opening chords of woke up this morning by the Alabama three. The theme song of the show. And so, like you said, the key clicks in the lock. This is how Tony becomes Tony Soprano. And Christopher’s voice over finally returned to say, That’s the guy who went to hell for

S1: Oh my god, I didn’t get that his hand reached up. I think I don’t know if I was glancing down and writing a note or what, but when I saw them doing the pinky swear, I assumed that that Tony had reached down into the coffin, grabbed his dead hand and was doing a pinky swear with him. But there was actually a magical realists supernatural moment there. Yes.

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S2: Dickie hand rises up. It’s again like it’s a movie narrated by a ghost, and in the end, it’s a ghostly like handshake. It’s something that I guess is existing in Tony’s imagination or as symbolic or, you know, a test dream. There’s enough non realism throughout the run of the show that it fits into that vein of it.

S1: Wow, respect, I have to say that that makes me also like that Christopher’s voice comes in even though we haven’t heard from him in a long time, and you could arguably say, why is this ghost coming back to talk to if all of a sudden, but if supernatural things are happening, then of course it makes sense.

S2: There you go. All right. I’ve done my job. Now you have your respect for the movie.

S1: You haven’t improved my enjoyment of the end of this movie. That’s a that’s a that’s a really spooky and clever ending. And I would have gasped loud if I had seen the dead hand reaching out of the coffin. That’ll teach me to take notes in a movie next time, even if I do have to write on it. All right. Well, Alan promise me that if there is a prequel to the prequel or a sequel to the prequel or a TV show about this, that you will come in and talk sopranos with me again

S2: anytime, anywhere.

S1: Great. It was a total pleasure.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: So that’s our show. Please subscribe to the Slate Spoiler special podcast feed. And please, if you like our show, read it and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcasts. And as always, if you have any suggestions for movies or TV shows you’d like us to spoil or other feedback to share. You can send it to spoilers at Slate.com. Our producer today was Morgan Flannery for Alan Sepinwall. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you soon.